The following article was written by Ben Stahl, the husband of POPSUGAR Moms contributor Kate Stahl, with a few loving edits from his grammatically superior wife.
It's the middle of the night. Literally, it's 3 a.m., and I feel like someone is watching me. I'm deep into a dream about a strange co-worker's retreat. President Barack Obama is there, as is my mother-in-law and my 3-year-old son. I'm trying to develop a plan with the president to escape, my mother-in-law is being her usual supportive self, and my son is staring at me. I open my eyes mid-dream to realize my mother-in-law is in Indiana, Obama is probably on an extended vacation in Hawaii, and my 3-year-old? Well, he is literally one foot from my face, looking directly into my soul.
For better or worse, I have been anointed the King of the Night by my children. At 1, 2, 3 a.m., they always come to me, bypassing their soundly sleeping mother, despite her side of the bed being closer to our door. I wish I could tell you why, but years in, it's still a mystery to me. Perhaps it's the novelty of my being home since I'm at work most of the day. Perhaps they've already had their fill of Mom by bedtime. Perhaps it's like feeding pigeons; I've simply attracted the behavior over and over and over, and now I can't shake them loose.
For better or worse, I have been anointed the King of the Night by my children.
The stark reality of parenting is that you are suddenly, and what seems like permanently, on someone else's schedule, prioritizing someone else's needs. For me, no time is that more evident than in the middle of the night. During the infant stage, I helped my wife manage balls of poop and spit-up that eventually went to sleep for an hour or two. Once they stopped breastfeeding, however, she tapped out of her nighttime duties, seemingly with the kids' full support. In the toddler stage, our kids turned into walking night wanderers that apparently wanted only the warmth their father could provide. Now they're self-aware little people that crave my emotional comfort, mostly between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. The common thread? The disruption of my REM cycles.
My son is the main culprit of midnight disturbances. Some nights I'll get him back in his single bed, where I'll inevitably pass out for an hour or two; others I will cave and pull his 40-pound, sack-of-potatoes frame over my half-awake body and resume my catatonic state. There, he'll fall asleep between my wife and me like a shallow-breathing sardine, typically lying on his back, not moving much, and radiating heat. Since he actually allows me to go back to sleep so quickly, I tell myself it's not a problem. He'll grow out of it, right?
My 5-year-old daughter, on the other hand, is not so zen in the darkest part of the night. Seven times out of 10 her visits are coupled with all the bedroom, hall, and bathroom lights being thrown on, and lighting-fast sprint through the hallway to, you guessed it, my side of the bed, where she aggressively wakes me with a combination of shaking, panting, and heavy breathing, always joined by a heartfelt story of terror. She has a very creative imagination and a healthy dose of nighttime anxiety.
The apple doesn't fall far from tree. The truth is, I, too, tortured my parents in the middle of the night. They're still talking about how often I woke them because I'd had bad dreams, wet my bed (ahem), or just didn't want to be alone. And my midnight go-to was always my dad. On my most exhausted days, I tell myself that I'm providing my children comfort and security as they develop a sense of self, just like my dad did for me when I was little.
I know someday I will sleep through the night again. I've been told I'll have to pull my teenagers out of bed at noon on Saturdays, but for now, I just really need a nap.